CONTENT FLYING ON THE WINGS OF FORM: ON THE PLANNED ART OF YUCHENG CHOU
NOT VACANT, JUST INVISIBLE
IN 2011, YUCHENG Chou held an exhibition in Taiwan’s Hong-Gah Museum titled “TOA Lighting” (1). When the exhibition first opened and the audience, stepping onto smooth floorboards, entered the exhibition space, they were greeted with bare walls and not a pedestal in sight. The whole space was devoid of anything that could be recognized as an artwork. All that could be seen were a number of 120-centimeter-long plain fluorescent tubes arranged in squares on the ceiling. This exhibition is an experiment in beating confusion into people’s heads, but it can also be extremely relaxing. One after another, visitors to the exhibition ask: “Where are the artworks?” “So the lights are the artworks?” “What is so great about these lights, anyway?” In fact, this exhibition directly challenges the inertia of the visual form, as well as presupposing and transcending the more complex communications and themes in the traditional art of people’s imaginations.
It was around this time that people began once again to discuss the idea of “emptiness.” In 1958 in Paris, Iris Clert Gallery held Yves Klein’s exhibition “The Void”; in 2009, the Pompidou hosted “Voids: A Retrospective,” inviting visitors to walk into an empty exhibition space. Confronting the premise of an “empty exhibition space,” critic Wang Sheng-Hung has in the past mentioned the specific mechanisms and reciprocal relationships in Yucheng Chou’s work, while also drawing attention to the danger inherent in an “empty exhibition space” tactic. It is, in the end, difficult to escape becoming a cliché. Nowadays, it is like a grand masterstroke everybody can see through, and it seems it is no longer difficult to produce new criticality. Because should one fall into repeatedly demonstrated logic, then any original artistic action can wear down a critical power full of variation (2).
However, “TOA Lighting” was not Yucheng Chou’s first such effort. As early as 2010, in a collaboration with the Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture titled Taken from society / Give back to society, Chou began discussing objects made by artists—“artworks”—and whether they could be assigned a new meaning, and offer something back to society. For this project, Chou designed a symbol that echoed the Taishin company logo and used it to make 200 limited edition posters priced at RMB 282 each, as well as working with the foundation to suggest a way for staff at Taishin Tower to purchase and collect them. He also wrote 10 letters to Taishin staff in an effort to remind them of the foundation’s social responsibilities,and donated all the profits to the foundation, thereby exploring the corporate body’s micro-coexistence, dependent morphology, and relationships.
But to return to “TOA Lighting”: what did the artist do in this exhibition? Firstly, he made note of the lack of basic materials in the exhibition space, such as unsuitable, outmoded lights and a shortage of diverse lighting equipment. He went through the Hong-Gah Museum exhibition administration to discuss a lighting sponsorship with TOA Lighting, establishing an organization-to-organization partnership. He had a large brand logo included in the exhibition press kit, and brought to the exhibition organizational relationships and basic distribution of resources—those things that are hardest to perceive. After the exhibition closed, all the discussed lighting from the sponsorship was donated to the Hong-Gah Museum, once again creating a reciprocal relationship. Similar reciprocal methods also appeared in his 2011 exhibition “Rainbow Paint” at Kuandu Museum (3). For this project, Rainbow Paint sponsored 200 gallons of pure white paint (not the exhibition space’s customary lily white) according to Chou’s requirements. After the project, this paint was given freely to any art spaces who wished to use it (4).
TWO ETHICAL ASPECTS: PEOPLE AND SPACE
FROM THIS WE can see that space, as far as Yucheng Chou is concerned, is no longer a tool to be used for the presentation of artworks; rather, it is an indicator of the complicated invisibility of the chain of events behind the exhibition of an artwork. Chou uses an exhibition to present the space of an artwork, and to instantiate the demarcation between production methods and relationships behind an artwork, as well as the implicit social relationships and ethics of these. However, two ethical aspects of his art—space and people—are completely unlike the sense of participation that weaves through art and space in Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics. Neither are they in a direct site-specific relationship: Chou is always collaborating with the space itself. To put it another way, he always handles the systems and standards of a space non-invasively. He does not transform the space in order to adapt to the artwork; rather, through observing the properties and structure of a space, he intervenes in its mechanisms and operation.
Even more than “TOA Lighting” and “Rainbow Paint,” this is true of the three artworks he made for the 2012 Taipei Biennial, “Modern Monsters/Death and Life of Fiction.” In the first artwork, AURORA, Yucheng Chou continues to act as an intermediary, penetrating the museum system. He chose 10 Han-dynasty pottery figurines from AURORA Group’s collection, and used three projectors to illuminate them in a vitrine, lending a “modernized” appearance to these antiques.
There are two other artworks in the same exhibition:Forgotten Kao Er-Pan and Mr. Yang Po-Lin And His Copper Sculptures. Forgotten Kao Er-Pan takes aim at a series of visually obstructive, large-scale air conditioning ducts high up in the museum exhibition space. Yucheng Chou placed a bottle of tea on top, as if it had been left there by accident during installation. Mr. Yang Po-Lin And His Copper Sculptures consists of two Yang Po-Lin sculptures on loan from the Taipei Fine Arts Museum which Chou placed on the third floor of the exhibition space for the benefit of visitors who might lose their sense of direction. He installed two green walls in the space and placed the sculptures, heavy and rich in formative feeling, in front of them. In this way, he set up a meeting point for the space, helping visitors to keep track of the complicated path through the exhibition.
Moreover, while preparing to hold a solo exhibition in April of this year, the space and nature of the commercial gallery in question was once again foremost in his mind. He adjusted the form of his own artworks to the gallery space, as well as the relation of production that is sale and acquisition. In this new exhibition, he shows 10-20 paintings. Should a collector purchase one of these, he or she will also receive a white canvas and paints mixed by the artist in advance, and must then set about creating an artwork themselves. This blurs the identity of the artist and challenges our notions of art collection.
But to return to the point: the concern for personal ethics evident in Yucheng Chou’s artwork. As previously mentioned, the most direct example is his primary objective for creating the Taken from society / Give back to society plan for staff at the Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture, as well as Proposal, an artwork shown at the “True Illusion, Illusory Truth—Contemporary Art Beyond Ordinary Experience” exhibition hosted by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and A Working History—Lu Jie-de.
In “True Illusion, Illusory Truth,” Yucheng Chou tackled the way in which the nature of creative art production has changed, a change which means artists must now expend many thousands of words composing treatises, residency applications, and recruitment applications. On the one hand, turning writing into a reproduction tool for ideas brings artists’ written compilations more and more into sync with the creation of their artworks. On the other hand, Chou believes that the business of selecting artworks itself is a peculiar concept, and that through this mechanism, each work unit preserves many resources that cannot be exposed. Working under this premise, Chou wrote a letter requesting artists to send him their written application forms—with, of course, their names removed. Using eight tone-on-tone printers fitted with running water and operating at intervals of two minutes, these materials were printed repeatedly onto calligraphy practice paper, with the printed characters evaporating with the water and disappearing within ten seconds, returning each piece of paper to a simple blank sheet.
The first appearance of Temporary Worker was at the Meiya Cheng- curated “Trading Futures” at Taipei Contemporary Art Center. Yucheng Chou placed a notice in the newspaper looking for a 50-60 year old temporary worker. After many telephone calls and several interviews in search of a willing participant, he chose Mr. Lu Jie-de, and through extensive interviewing came to understand his life story, from his youth to the present day. He then compiled this story into a book, which would act as the artwork for the exhibition, and Lu Jie-de himself received a monthly stipend to work as a security guard in the exhibition space. At first, the inspiration for this working history came from Chou’s reflections on his father’s generation—the voiceless generation that supported Taiwan’s economic takeoff (the manufacturing and commerce classes). In the last few decades, these people have begun to be affected by Taiwan’s economic change of direction; industry has begun to move overseas and shed local jobs, leaving these workers, gradually neglected by modern society, to an uncertain fate. After this artwork received the Taipei Art Award, Chou used the argyle sweater Lu frequently wears as a visual tool to create a large-scale image installation. This was an attempt to recreate Lu’s image for the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. He also printed 2,000 copies of A Working HistoryLLu Jie-de to be supplied to visitors for free. And of course, Lu himself reported for his work at the gallery every day, during which time he was free to wander throughout the space.
However, when news of the Taipei Art Award began to spread through press releases and advertisements, crowds of people began to arrive at the gallery hoping to find Lu Jie-de, and curator Jow-Jiun Gong invited the artwork to be shown at Eslite Gallery this August. However, since Eslite’s exhibition space does not require the supervision of a security guard, Lu can also participate in the manufacture of a visual component. As a result, on a “mental care” level, he also becomes a part of this ethical aspect: due to his involvement in this “exhibition,” it predetermines many conversations and negotiations between the artist and Lu Jie-de, transforming these employer and temporary worker identities into a person-to-person co- operation and harmony. To confront potential accusations of “using a temporary worker,” Yucheng Chou has stated that Lu’s becoming famous overnight was something neither he nor Lu could predict. Moreover, this series is still in progress, and might change direction through the addition of new temporary workers or through changes to the content and form of the exhibition, so this question will need to be confronted in a much more meticulous manner.
CONSIDERING SUBJECT AND FORM ON THE SAME PLANE
WHEN PEOPLE ASSUME that Yucheng Chou is creating vacancy, they come to realize that he is not merely working with emptiness, but that he is reflecting on some of the most directly effective and understandable forms. We can offer some keywords: “public concern,” “social interaction,” “art production chain,” “artist participation in society” and so on. However, behind these words, where Chou is most successful as an artist is still in form and aesthetics. In other words, he is skilled in that part of art most open to interpretation: formal language, the most important precondition for creation. In Taiwan, Chou studied in an art academy and after graduating left to study in France. He worked for eight years, specializing in print, installation, and digital media. After leaving Taiwan he was faced with the entirely different set of challenges offered by the French art world and the academy system; referring to this period, he jokingly calls himself “the idiot who could do everything.” Finally returning to Taiwan after so many years abroad, he could clearly sense the transformation in the Taiwanese art environment: in the past young academy artists had had very few exhibition opportunities, but now the whole atmosphere, as well as the rapid speed at which information could spread, had changed. He was once prone to using very complex, obscure vocabulary and being perhaps too meta in his approach to artworks, but now his focus is on finding the simplest method to create the possibility for “communication.”
Artists employ a kind of cross-boundary reflection to break through hierarchical methods of viewing artwork. They are skilled at applying the concept of a visual center in an exhibition, at letting an artwork’s form, content, and concept develop on the same plane— rather than ensnaring one another—and at keeping the language of art as the work’s primary point of departure. But nowadays, this highly thematicized art is an inevitable response to the era. Nothing in the current environment permits you to remain on a solitary plane. How can an artist help this thing called art continue to exist through form? How can we search, change, and exchange denotation and connotation in this era, saturated as it is with meaning and material? How can we open a space for communicative exchange and discourse through the appearance of our artwork, and not be dominated or regulated by form? This is the most pressing question brought about by the creation of art today. (Translation by Sarah Stanton)
1. TOA Lighting have been cooperating with Toshiba since 1956 to produce light bulbs. Their principal products include lights, light bulbs, fluorescent lights, T5, green-capable lighting, solar energy, LEDs, lithium lighting, electricity-saving lighting, energy-saving lighting, carbon-saving lighting, CCFL, cold cathode lights, desk lamps, and so on.
2. Taiwanese art critic Wang Sheng-Hung in his article “Imagining a Metafuture: On Yucheng Chou’s‘Rainbow Paint’”which first appeared in ArtCo, issue 228, p 131-133.
3. Rainbow Paint is a major oil paint brand based in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
4. The content and digital consultation regarding this section came from the author’s previous article“To View the Invisible—Communication in the Artwork of Chou Yu-Cheng,”which first appeared in Taiwan Fine Arts Museum’s Modern Art, issue 164, p 36-39.